Friday, February 28, 2014

Retrospect - the Socialist Standard 1904 (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Seventy-five years ago, the first issue of the Socialist Standard was published—a clear statement of the unique socialist case, of uncompromising opposition to the expediencies of reformism:
The greatest problem awaiting solution in the world to-day is the existence in every commercial country of extreme poverty side by side with extreme wealth . . . It is the producer of wealth who is poor, the non-producer who is rich. How comes it that the men and women who till the soil, who dig the mine, who manipulate the machine, who build the factory and the home, and, in a word, who create the whole of the wealth, receive only sufficient to maintain themselves and their families on the border line of bare physical efficiency, while those who do not aid in production – the employing class – obtain more than is enough to supply their every necessity, comfort, and luxury?
All the attempted improvements and reforms of governments since then—be they Tory, Labour, Liberal or coalition—have not made any difference. Society is still divided into classes, the haves and the have-nots:
. . .  the life condition of the workers is one of penury and of misery. The only saleable commodity they possess  – their power of working – they are compelled to take to the labour market and sell for a bare subsistence wage. The food they eat, the clothing they wear, the houses in which they live are of the shoddiest kind, and these together with the mockery of an education which their children receive, primarily determine the purchasing price of their labour-power.
Today, three-quarters of a century later, these observations are still true. Now we eat soya-bean substitutes in place of meat; we accept that new clothes will fall to bits rapidly or need mending soon after purchase. Some even rely on jumble sales and thrift shops to clothe their children in second-hand reach-me-downs; working-class housing is built on the cheap and nasty principle, heedless of comfort and of a most unappealing ugliness; while the schools our children are compelled by law to attend are no more able to educate them than a battery farm can be said to educate its hens.

That first article went on to demonstrate how profit, interest and rent derive from "the unpaid labour of the working-class".
So long as this lasts – and it will last as long as the capitalist system of society – it will not be possible for the workers by any Trades Union organisation to more than slightly modify their condition, and their power in this direction is becoming every day more limited by the combinations among employers to defeat the aims of the working class.
The socialists of 1904 would find their description of the capitalist system in British applies just as aptly to 1979 as when that sentence first appeared in print. Now the trade unions are opposed by the Confederation of British Industry, Aims of Industry and the Institute of Directors, as well as by combinations of employers within various branches of industry. During these seventy-five years, we have seen and learnt from many bitter experiences just how limited is the power of trade union action. In 1926, all the efforts of the coalminers solidly united in their union and supported by other trade unionists could not prevent a reduction in their wages. In recent years, currency inflation combined with rising levels of unemployment have brought about similar falls in the real purchasing power of workers' wages. Even in 1904, the Socialist Standard reported that "the real wage of the worker as measured by its purchasing power has, since 1900, been reduced by ten per cent." Experience tells us that we cannot expect lasting improvements from trade union action, only temporary gains which are wiped out when market conditions alter.

What, then, can we do? The answer given by the Socialist Party in 1904 is the same as we would give today, not because we are blinkered slaves to tradition but because the conditions and problems we are dealing with are essentially the same. Our task is
. . .  to show the workers that while their organisation in trades will  prove an invaluable aid in the transformation of society by facilitating industrial reorganisation, yet at present they can best help to emancipate themselves from the thraldom of wage-slavery by recognising that in their class struggle with their exploiters they can be most certain of success in the political sphere of action.
Then, as now, socialists had to expose the non-revolutionary parties—whether allegedly labour or avowedly capitalist—as opposed to socialism. That first article proceeds to sum up the Conservatives and the Liberals as parties "interested in maintaining the present class society", which "cannot, therefore, be expected to help in its transformation from capitalism to Socialism."

The Labour Representative Committee, which later spawned the Labour Party, was described as 
" also to be avoided . . . [It] has no programme whatsoever, and its members possess no principles in common save the name “Labour." . . . Unity is only possible among those who possess common principles. Unity can not, therefore, be secured for any length of time by the members of the Labour Representation Committee, but even if it could, the body is not based upon Socialist principles and should not receive the adhesion of working men."
History has shown that unity can be achieved in the absence of common principles, but only by those prepared to elevate vote-catching and expediency. The Labour Party today, perpetually threatened with splits, develops its politics mainly with a view to the popularity polls when out of power, and when in government never fails to disappoint its faithful rank and file by its concern for capitalist class interests, under the cover name of the 'national interest'.

What was needed, we said in 1904, was a socialist party. There was then the Independent Labour Party but, being a 'halfway house to socialism', founded on compromise, was doomed: 
Having neither the courage to proclaim themselves Socialists nor to disavow Socialism, they are to-day coquetting with that working-class wing of the Liberal Party – the Labour Representation Committee.
As we have so often seen with the Labour Party, the LRC's reaction to the question of socialism was that "that was neither the time nor the place for such discussion". It is doubtful if the question of socialism—the abolition of the wages system—has ever been thought proper for discussion or been on the agenda at any Labour, ILP or LRC meeting.

The other party claiming to be socialist in 1904 was the Social Democratic Federation, from which the founder members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain had seceded earlier that year. It was following a 'compromising policy' like that of the ILP, so much so that it was "surely developing into a mere reform party, seeking to obtain the provision of Free Maintenance for school children". Like the ILP, the SDF was drawn into the orbit of the Labour Party and is long since defunct. The SPGB, scoffed at as 'Impossibilists', has however survived, and has developed its case in response to historical change. Since 1904 we have stated the socialist attitude on war, on the Russian Revolution, the General Strike, the theory mooted in the Depression that capitalism was about to collapse, and many other issues.

As in 1904, the SPGB is "a party determined to use its every effort in the furtherance of Socialist ideas and Socialist principles". We continue to work "gain the confidence and support of the working-class . . . by consistently advocating . . . a clearly defined body of principles". Then, as now, we assert that "the first duty of The Socialist Party is the teaching of its principles and the organisation of a political party on a Socialist basis". The first message of the first socialist political party to the working class, with an optimism now embarrassing, concluded:
Men and women of the working-class, it is to you we appeal! To-day we are a small party, strong only in the truth of our principles, the sincerity of our motives, and the determination and enthusiasm of our members. To-morrow we shall be strong in our numbers, for the economic development of capitalist society fights for us, and as, through the merging of free competition in monopoly and the simplification of industry, the personal capitalist gives place to the impersonal trust as your employer, you will be forced to see that the welfare of the people can best be guaranteed by the holding of all material wealth in common. 
We ask you, therefore, to study the principles upon which our party is based, to find out for yourselves what Socialism is and how Socialism and Socialism alone can abolish class society and establish in its stead a society based upon social equality. When you have done this we know that you will come with us and, by enrolling yourself a member of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, help to speed the time when we shall herald in for ourselves and for our children, a brighter, a happier and a nobler society than any the world has yet witnessed.
Charmian Skelton




Noam Chomsky - Rights and Lefties (1995)

From the August 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists aren't the only people pointing out that it is useless pleading with governments to end the problems which are endemic to capitalism. Noam Chomsky reiterated this during a recent talk - pity his audience didn't appreciate his point!

There was something vaguely comical about the atmosphere in the Central Hall, Westminster on the bright June evening when Prof Noam Chomsky was to deliver his talk on the theme "HUman Rights in the New World Order". All the fashionable stewards wore black T-shirts with the following imperative in small white lower-case letters: "defend diversity". There were scores of people dressed in this uniform.

Chomsky's address was part of a Human Rights convention which had been sponsored by the Observer and the legal campaign group Liberty. This event was attended by a wide range of left-wing lawyers, radical journalists, professional campaigners, and post-post-modern pundits. Most of the famous names were there to lead seminars or workshops.

Noam Chomsky, often dubbed as the world's greatest philosopher, is a man who is steadfastly opposed to icons of any description, to human sheep following political shepherds. He even opposed the superb documentary about the book he c-wrote with Edward S. Herman (Manufacturing Consent) on the grounds that it personalised grand political issues. It was therefore incredible to witness the degree of personal adulation bestowed on this man by many of the people there. The man in front of me kept taking photographs of Chomsky during the talk. At the end of the talk hundreds of people tried to get the philosopher's autograph.

We do not underestimate the immeasurable contribution that Noam Chomsky has made, and is making, to radically change the world, but to treat him as a saviour is to misunderstand his arguments. Chomsky was on his feet for two hours. He gave a coruscatingly good analysis of modern capitalism. and showed how the origins of sustained human rights violations can all be traced back to struggles over property rights, land rights, rights of trade and so forth. It was, therefore, utterly dispiriting for socialists in the audience (and probably for Chomsky himself) when his blisteringly articulate condemnation of capitalism drew nothing but fairly dull questions from the audience. Each of the few questions seemed to come from various left-wing, reformist activists, and betrayed an apparent incomprehension of what had been said in the talk.

Chomsky's arguments
Chomsky began by pointing out that in capitalism "politics takes place in the shadow cast by big business". He concentrated on American foreign policy showing how, for example, such policy in Haiti was formed and reformed in accordance with the interests of the super-rich both there and in America. The ordinary population of Haiti was treated as a dispensable element in the process of making a few people very rich. The American government like countries with which it does business to be "stable". The stricter the government, the better. A strong military government is fine, a fascist regime will do nicely. No trade unions to interrupt the wealth-creating process, and a large armed police presence all the time will produce just the sort of disciplined order and reliable "economic miracle" that American investors would be prepared to rely upon.

With fastidious detail, and supporting his every proposition with demonstrably accurate data (often adducing facts and figures released by the American government itself), Chomsky showed how "liberals" like Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton had condoned mass murder, torture, and savagery by the deals they did, in Brazil and Colombia respectively. "If the Nuremberg laws were applied," as Chomsky commented on another occasion, "then every post-war American president would have been hanged."

He then gave a frighteningly grim picture of life today for many Americans. The recession has produced armies of politicians and "experts" who favour social policies of "tough love". This means being cruel to be kind. Taking away the nanny state in order to teach people the virtues of self-dependence. No free school, no free medicine. Win in the rat race or curl up and die. "Tough love is what they call it for a good reason," said Chomsky, "because the rich love it and it's tough on everybody else." The irony is, as he pointed out, that these policies were put forward in the name of "family values" and yet their direct and clearly predictable result has been to assist in the destruction of that institution in America. Fathers who have been conditioned to see themselves as breadwinners have no employment, mothers work long, part-time sessions, and children are supervised by television sets. Fathers get drunk and depressed, wives work themselves into a torpor, and the kids end up as unsocialised, illiterate delinquents. And all this in the cause of promoting God and the family.

Why should workers be afforded the luxury of employment contracts and their associated legal rights? Ask the new economists. We should all become part of a more "flexible economy". Chomsky explained the rationale for this: "the bosses want you anxious as hell when your head touches the pillow each night, worrying whether you'll be at work the day after tomorrow, as there's nothing quite like that worry to get you worrying like mad".

Chomsky's opposition to the wages-system is always clearly put: "I don't think that many people ought to be forced to rent themselves in order to survive", as he once put it. Many of his ideas appear succinctly in a book which is a commentary on the documentary Manufacturing Consent. The book is Noam Chomsky and the Media edited by Mark Achbar (Black Rose Books, Montreal/London) and the "rent" quotation is on page 215. Again, consider his views on the need for government:
"presupposing that there have to be states is like saying, what kind of feudal system should we have that would be the best one? What kind of slavery would be the best kind?" (p. 208)
At the meeting Chomsky revealed two telling figures from a recent opinion poll in the United States. He noted that 82 per cent of the respondents thought that most politicians were in politics for their own gain, and that 83 per cent of respondents thought that "the current economic system is inherently unfair". It could hardly have been plainer that Chomsky's identification of the reasons for human rights violations was the essential nature of capitalism. It was not an unacceptable face of capitalism, something that needs adjusting with a legal instrument, it was the system itself.

Yet, after two hours of quietly, cogently, and often hilariously, showing that the social system was necessarily slanted against human rights, campaigners stood up at the end of the talk and asked for Chomsky's blessing for a variety of foredoomed crusades. Chomsky had argued that the problem of human rights abuse was just a necessary consequence of having a system run by bankers not by philanthropists or moral philosophers, yet the reformers wanted him to approve of huge human efforts to plead with governments to act more kindly.

To his great credit, Chomsky seemed to treat legal interference with capitalism as an unreliable solution to the problems of human rights violations. Although he spoke for two hours he only came to the matter of law in the final sixty seconds of his talk. He picked up a piece of card and referred to some specific questions involving legal strategies which he had been invited to address by the organisers, said, in effect, that they weren't very important in the context of capitalism, and concluded his opening remarks. Those lawyers who had been manning the expensively-decorated recruiting stall of the Law Society (the solicitors' trade union) in the foyer before the talk must have felt rather let down.

The first questioner, from the audience of 2,000,  introduced himself as a spokesperson for the "Luton Peoples' Collective". He said that some people in Britain had been victimised by the police for illegal drug use. Was this branch of human rights designed to intimidate all deviants from conventional behaviour into conforming to capitalism? Having travelled 3,000 miles to talk about human rights in a world suffering from such enormous problems as starvation somewhere in the world), carnage, ethnic cleansing, forced female circumcision, and the catalogue of crimes exposed by Amnesty International, Chomsky was visibly disappointed with the first question. But the questions did not improve.

The second questioner asked whether Chomsky favoured the London-based campaign to stop the Cuban government buying certain sorts of missiles? A possibly rather gutted Chomsky patiently explained to Private Eye's Dave Spart that, as had been pointed out in the talk, there was no convincing evidence that governments could be persuaded by moralists to run capitalism in accordance with anything but the principles of accounting. And so the questions continued. I wanted to ask Chomsky to comment on the sort of society he wanted to see at the end of the "long road" he had said we would have to travel before becoming civilised; and how we should travel there. Alas, despite 20 minutes of impersonating a flagless semaphorist, I was still not chosen by the steward to ask a question. Perhaps I should been wearing a T-shirt bearing a single demand from capitalism as its slogan.

Many people on the left in politics have an unwarrantedly optimistic view of what can be achieved by using the law to tame and control commerce. The law cannot do that. As a socialist I do not support the campaign for human rights, for two reasons.

First, the whole idea of getting down on your knees and asking someone or something for your "rights" is undiginified. It presupposes that the giver or rights (he, she, they, or it) is superior to the supplicant. I am a human being and I don't want a society where I have to depend upon John Major, the Lord Chancellor, Bill Clinton or the chief judge in Strasbourg to finish a plate of lobster and then tell me whether I have the right to breathe, work, be free, protest, or anything else. Rights are for the meek.

They are also for the unrealistic. The second objection to rights is that history has shown them to be nothing but instantly disposable guarantees. The American constitution in 1776 declared that "all men are born free", yet slavery was still an institution for almost another century, swiftly followed by universal wage-slavery. The left's hapless "right to work" campaign fizzled out in the 1980s when it became apparent to even the most bigoted SWP member that capitalism does not and can never guarantee such rights. Go to any country in the world which boasts a constitution guaranteeing the right to life and you will find the bodies or the statistics to debunk the paper right.

Jeremy Bentham, the nineteenth-century reformer, and the man who wrote that "property and law are born together and die together", had a clear understanding of legal rights. He said that they were "nonsense" and that the idea of basic human rights was "nonsense upon stilts". There's no point in calling them rights if getting them enforced is only a pious hope. A call for rights is a plea to a recognised superior. Let's forget "rights", and get up off our knees.
Gary Jay

Why we are different (1980)

Editorial from the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people complain that all political parties are the same. The Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) is different from all parties, movements and sects which from time to time appeal to you for support. Our message is not designed to sell you political leaders at election times, nor does it consist of slogans with more echo than substance. The socialist case is based upon the secure grounding of political logic and material interest.

The SPGB was formed in 1904, two years before the Labour Party. Our Declaration of Principles did not arise out of a Utopian idea, but out of the real problems produced by the way in which society is organised. Modern society operates within the confines of the capitalist system. Capitalism has certain hallmarks: the minority ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution; production for profit; exploitation of the working class (all those who receive wages and salaries as a means of living) by the capitalist class (those who can live by possessing capital without having to produce wealth).

Capitalism is a system of wage slavery for the majority of people; it is impossible to run the wages system in the interest of the wage slaves. Political parties of all types have tried to reform the capitalist system in the interest of the working class, but this is a futile struggle to treat the symptoms and not the disease. Reformism is the political approach which endeavours to run capitalism without recognising the in-built antagonism between the two classes in society. Reformists, however sincerely motivated they may be, are bound to end up running society in the material interest of the ruling class.

At its inception the SPGB rejected the reformist tactics of the Labour Party. Early issues of the Socialist Standard predicted that the new party would fail to solve the problems faced by the working class. Nothing has happened since to persuade us to change our mind and plenty has happened to make us even more resolved in our hostility to the Labour Party. It supported two world wars and was in office when the first British atomic weapons were produced. It has nationalised industries which was simply a move from private to state capitalism—and called it socialism. It has introduced and upheld racist immigration legislation and other divisive acts of nationalism. It has used troops to break strikes. The SPGB is different from the Labour Party simply because we stand at all time for the social interest of the working class, whereas Labour has consistently come to the aid of the class enemy.

The political aim of the SPGB is a response to the futility of reformism. Ours is the politics of revolution. We do not mean bloodshed and barricades when we speak of revolution, but a fundamental change in social relationships. The Socialist Party stands for a totally new system of social organisation in which the means of producing and distributing wealth—the land, factories, mines, docks, hospitals, railways—are commonly owned and democratically controlled by all members of society, without distinction of race or sex. In socialism each member of society will give according to ability and take according to self-determined needs. Money, wages, buying and selling will be things of the past, when wealth is held in common. Clearly, such a system does not operate anywhere in the world today. Neither could it exist in one country; the world system of capitalism can only be replaced by the world system of socialism.

Socialism is a democratic concept and it can only be established by conscious, democratic socialists. Leaders cannot get socialism for the working class. Indeed, the SPGB urges workers to reject all leaders and do your own thinking for yourselves. The emancipation of the working class by the working class itself is what we stand for. When the workers of the world understand and want socialism they must use their political power—in many countries this makes use of the ballot box—to take social power away from the capitalists and their representatives and to place the means of life in the hands of the whole community.

The socialist revolution is not an unattainable ideal. It can and will happen when millions of workers all over the world recognise their class interests, form socialist parties and use the political strength which they have. Once a majority of workers are resolved to establish socialism there is nothing that can effectively stand in their way. That is why the SPGB is solely concerned with the propagation of working class consciousness.

The SPGB is unlike all other parties in its organisation. We have no leaders, as a party of conscious members needs no chiefs to tell us what to do. All of our affairs are open to the scrutiny of the public. We are a political party, concerned with socialist propaganda; we publish literature, dealing both with general and specific matters; we attend opponents' meetings to state the case for social sanity; we put up candidates at election time in as many constituencies as is practical; we organise lectures and outdoor meetings to spread the understanding of socialist ideas. In short, we do whatever is possible to further what we believe to be the only worthwhile cause which is open to the working class. To join the SPGB you must be a committed socialist; applicants for membership are only admitted if they are considered to understand the case that we stand for.

We in the SPGB don't like being unique and different. We don't relish the fact that we are a small party which does not include millions of workers in its membership. We are certainly not complacent or proud about the fact that we are small. But we are proud of the fact that we have been consistently correct about what we have said for over seventy-five years. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is different.


Between the Lines: From the land which gave us Rupert Murdoch . . . (1988)

The Between the Lines TV Review column from the March 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

1988 is the year when TV discovered Australia in a big way. Firstly, it discovered that Australia was "discovered" two hundred years ago. Complete historical nonsense, of course: Australia was settled by its native Aborigines for about 30,000 years before the white "civilisers" arrived to murder them and leave who remained in apartheid-style reservations.

So TV has celebrated the land which produced Rupert Murdoch, the Bee Gees and Dame Edna. Fortunately, BBC2 offered a chance to avert our eyes from the revolting pictures of Charlie and Di's state visit, with her modelling with a team of beefy surfers while he discovered a whole new variety of plant life to enjoy conversations with. (Most of the latter are believed to be employed in the British Embassy.)

Instead, we could watch John Pilger's quite brilliant three-part documentary, The Last Dream which told, with passion, something of the real history of Australia. Pilger described how the Aborigines were peaceful people who lived at one with nature with respect for the land. And how the land was stolen, leaving them today as the lowest strand of the working class in a nation which cannot cope with a culture of sharing. Unemployment and alcoholism are very high among the Aborigines who survive.

In the second programme—the best of the trilogy for its uncompromising exposure—Pilger tore to pieces the long-standing myth that Australia is a classless society. He not only told us about the millionaire parasites like Kerry Packer, Alan Bond and Rupert Murdoch—he showed us them dining in celebration of their good fortune of being capitalist rulers in a land of illusory equality. Dining with them was Bob Hawke, the Labour Prime Minister of Australia.

Pilger lost no time and spared no detail in exposing the anti-working class attitudes and policies of the Labour government. Nobody could have watched the documentary without seeing through the lies of Hawke, who claims to be a socialist and the workers' friend. John Pilger seems to entertain some illusions about previous Australian Labour governments but he cannot be faulted in his demonstration that the present one is simply an ally of Australian capital against Australian labour.

In the third programme Pilger dealt with the Australian war record, placing special emphasis on its part in Vietnam, where the Australian state acted as an unrespected military servant of US imperialism. Pilger pointed out how Australians have always been sent to die in other people's wars. What he meant was that Australia has been subordinated to the needs of other national capitalist interests. True as this may be, the really important point (not made by Pilger) is that workers in all countries are always fighting wars which are not their own. Some capitalists win and some capitalists lose but it is always the workers who die needlessly.

The series ended fittingly with the singing of what the present writer at least regards as the greatest anti-war song ever written: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle, himself an Australian. If you have never heard the song you should go out of your way to do so; if you have a chance to see a repeat of the Pilger series it is a must for workers who want to find out the history of what really happened to our class.

On the subject of working-class history and great music, the Channel Four documentary on Woody Guthrie, which was shown in January, was another classic: it would have been good to hear Pete Seeger singing Guthrie's This Land Is My Land (the uncensored version which deals with the iniquity of private property) while Pilger was describing the "discovery" of the Aborigines by the British plunderers.

In addition to TV's celebration of Britain's imperialist past, 1988 has also seen one of Australia's tackiest commodities hit the peak-time screen. Neighbours (BBC1, 5.35pm, Monday-Friday) is the soap opera devised to make Crossroads look like something on the Oxford English Literature syllabus. It is viewed by 14 million people daily. As a depiction of working-class life in Australia it is an unfunny joke.

Where are the unemployed workers? Why do no black Australians ever appear? Do Australians really spend most of their lives incessantly bitching against one another? Is there something in the air in Australia which makes sentimental music appear every time the tension heightens? (Tension-heightening in Neighbours is a euphemism for one of the characters threatening to kill the little girl next door and her parents, or another woman finding out that her grand-daughter—whose existence she didn't know about until the episode before last—is in fact her husband's mistress's child.

If you ever over-indulge on the lager at lunchtime and can't be bothered to stick your finger down your throat, why not make a rush for the telly and watch Neighbours? Personally, I don't give a XXXX what 14 million viewers say—I think the programme is written by the bloke who writes Bob Hawke's speeches: he should be put on the next convict ship to New Zealand and left to die of boredom.
Steve Coleman




Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mixed Media: 'The Threepenny Opera' & 'Hull Ferens Art Gallery'

The Mixed Media column from the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Threepenny Opera

Last year there was a semi-staging by director Ted Huffman of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 1928 Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank. This performance was sung in German with English surtitles and had a linking narration specially written by Brecht for concert performances such as this.

The Threepenny Opera is an adaptation of John Gay's 1728 ballad opera The Beggar's Opera which is a satire on the corruption of the Walpole government in the aftermath of the financial crash of the South Sea Company. John Gay had a relish for low life, an affinity shared with Brecht who set The Threepenny Opera in a Soho of the lumpenproletariat of thieves, beggars, and whores.

Max Hopp as the Narrator sang Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (The Ballad of Mack the Knife). Max Hopp recently had a leading role in the William S Burroughs-Tom Waits 'musical fable' The Black Rider at the Theater Basel.

Low-Dive Jenny performed by Meow Meow sang Seeräuberjenny (Pirate Jenny): 'you toss me a penny, and I'm always quick to thank/Even though you see my rags/And fifty canons/Will fire at the shore/My Sirs, there your laughter will stop/Because the walls will fall/And the city will be level with the ground.'

Mark Padmore as Macheath and Nicholas Folwell as 'Tiger' Brown, the corrupt police chief duet on the Kanonen-Song (Cannon Song): 'young men's blood goes on being red/And the army goes on recruiting.'

Macheath and Jenny duet on the materialist II Dreigroschenfinale, Denn wovon lebt der Mensch? (Second Threepenny Opera Finale, What Keeps Mankind Alive); 'Food is the first thing: morals follow on/You gentlemen who think you have a mission/to purge us from the seven deadly sins/ Should first sort out the basic food position.'

The Threepenny Opera is notable for Weill's music which was scored for a jazz dance band drawing on the rhythms and idioms of the dance music of the time. Weill's music is a reaction to the bourgeois genre of operetta. He emulates John Gay in his use of vernacular musical styles.

Brecht aims his satire at the corruption, hypocrisy, greed, self-satisfaction of the capitalist class, the venality of aspirations to bourgeois respectability and what the bourgeoisie had in common with ruthless criminals. Macheath says 'What is the burgling of a bank to the founding of a bank?'

Theodore Adorno judged it the most important event since Berg's Wozzeck and Brecht later wrote 'young proletarians suddenly came to the theatre, in some cases for the first time, and then quite often came back.'

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Hull Ferens Art Gallery

The Ferens Art Gallery in Hull which opened in 1927 is a great example of how impressive a municipal art collection can be outside the metropolis. In fact this gallery has A View on the Grand Canal (1728) by 'Venetia Vedutista' Canaletto, one of many ‘views’ which were once in demand by the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie as souvenirs of the Grand Tour, and one of the few in an English municipal collection.

Impressionist Laura Knight's evocative Dressing the Children (1906) portrays a woman dressing children by firelight in a kitchen with a cat in the centre of the picture. It was painted in the cottage of an ironstone miner and his family in the fishing village of Staithes on the Yorkshire coast where Knight lived in an artists’ colony. Knight records in her autobiography how she saw in the cottage 'greater poverty and misery than it seemed possible for anyone to bear.' The family relied heavily on Knight's income, and eventually she and her husband gave the family five pounds to buy a horse and cart and to set up a fish selling business. Only part of the loan was repaid, the remainder was offered as a gift. In the Second World War Knight was a 'War Artist' and painted the iconic feminist Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech-ring.

The semi-abstract Keith Vaughan's Coastal Defences (Seaford, East Sussex) (c1959-62) is abstract assemblies of two dimensional geometrical shapes although Vaughan always rooted his paintings in observed reality, and was never completely abstract. There is a Henry Moore sculpture Working Model for Seated Woman (1980) which is a figure seated on a solid but low block base for support with her cloth-bound knees forced upwards by the pose.

Niccolò Renieri's baroque St Sebastian tended by the Holy Irene (1625) is in the style of the great Caravaggio with its strong lighting contrasts (chiaroscuro) and a preoccupation with the human body. A Roman warrior, the legend goes, Sebastian served in the private guard of the Emperor Diocletian, who sentenced him to be shot with arrows as punishment for his Christian faith, but as he lay dying and wounded he was found by the Holy Irene and nursed back to health. This painting is a very popular piece of work in the Ferens Art Gallery due to its striking nature and scale, it has been described as 'one of his most successful works, perhaps even his masterpiece.'
Steve Clayton

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cooking the Books: C, V and S (2012)

Cooking the Books column from the June 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Gas customers have been receiving a diagram with their bills which answers the question “where does your money go?” It shows that 56 percent goes on “gas bought from wholesale market”, 21 percent to “delivery to your home”, 10 percent to “government obligations and taxes”, 8 percent to operating costs, leaving 5 percent as “our profit”.

What does Marx make of this? To explain how capitalism works he employs three basic concepts, C, V and S. C stands for what he termed constant capital, V, for variable capital, and S, for surplus-value. By constant capital he means that part of total capital that is invested in factories, machinery, materials and energy.  Constant capital merely transfers its value (hence the name, ‘constant’) to the new product, either in one go or gradually through depreciation. Variable capital is that part of total capital that is invested in the purchase of labour-power and produces a greater value than its own (hence the name, ‘variable’).  This comes about because the exercise of labour-power is the source of new value.  The value that variable capital produces over and above its own value is S, surplus value.

From this Marx derived various explanatory concepts. S/V was the rate of surplus value or rate of exploitation. S/(C + V) was the rate of profit.

Some of Marx’s concepts can be translated into the categories of conventional bourgeois economics, except that Marx’s analysis is in terms of values whereas conventional economics is in terms of prices, which in practice are hardly ever the same. With this proviso, S + V corresponds to what conventional economists call “added value”. But there is a complication, even in Marx, regarding C. It can mean either total capital invested or only that part of constant capital that is transferred to a product in one process of production. Any confusion can be avoided by confining the “rate of profit” to the first case and introducing for the second the concept of “profit margin” as S/(C + V + S) even though this is not in Marx explicitly.

In his Guardian column (23 April) Aditya Chakrabortty drew attention to a study by the Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change (Cresc) on the “Apple Business Model”. He highlighted the fact it cost only $178.45 to assemble an Apple iPhone in China whereas it was sold in America for $680, “a whacking gross margin of 72%” as he put it.

There was, however, something more interesting in the article itself (which can be found on the Cresc website). Here the authors employ the concept of “labour share of value added” (LSVA), defining “value added” as “Labour costs including social charges (L) + cash surplus (C) (calculated as depreciation and amortisation + interest paid + profit retained & distributed)”.

The authors quote figures to show that “in the long run, US manufacturing LSVA has been declining unsteadily from a 70% level since the early 1980s to reach 55% in 2007; the German decline started later but there is a full 10 point difference between the 75% level of the early 1990s and 65% level of the early 2000s”. In China, on the other hand, “manufacturing LSVA ratios are currently at an extraordinary low level of 27.2% in 2007 and an estimated 26.2% in 2008.”

It’s good of conventional economics to provide us with a tool for calculating the rate of worker exploitation, since LSVA is L/(L + C), the equivalent in Marx of V/(V + S), from which the rate of exploitation S/V can be derived as C/L.

The Middle East War: A Letter to a Kiev Cousin (1973)

From the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear K,

I know that this letter won't reach you. Only if I were to express myself in subtle allusions might such a letter pass the censorship of the State Capitalist Russian Empire. But what I have to say must be said loud and clear. You may not hear me, but others will.

At last you hold an exit permit in your hand, your ticket to the promised land. In struggling for it, you were thrown out of your job by your bureaucratic bosses, who then sent you to labour camp for a year on a charge of parasitism. It goes without saying, as they say, that you were guilty of being without a job — innocent people are not arrested in the Soviet Union, which has no unemployment anyway — as is well known! But tomorrow you board the train for Prague — destination Jerusalem.

Who can blame you for wanting to get out? For centuries the Ukraine has been the most deeply anti-semitic area of the Empire. Even now a Jew is occasionally knifed to death in the main square of a small market town while the "honest Soviet people" and the police look on. More commonplace are the occasions when your fellow citizens — not all of them, but enough — content themselves with spitting on the ground as they pass and muttering something about the Yids.

But I must admit to being out of sympathy with some of your complaints. While recounting how your kids have been discriminated against in education and work, you bemoan that since the war the professions of Party bigwig, secret police desk-murderer and high Army officer are no longer open to Jews. But your Old Bolshevik grandfather, who fought in Trotsky's Red Army which suppressed the White pogroms in 1919 and later perished in a Stalinist death camp — your grandfather thought that he was fighting for a society of free and equal comrades, without exploitation or oppression of any kind, in which words like soldier, police, wages, boss would have become the obscure jargon of historians. Yes, but he forgot the technical and cultural preconditions of the Communist dawn, so far removed from the realities of a backward peasant country. In the State Capitalist despotism which arose to carry through industrialisation he was for a time a key administrator. Could he have imagined your strange complaint in his youth?

When you get out, you'll be leaving behind your sister, a convinced supporter of the Soviet system. A Party member, she thinks that the system is basically sound, a bit perverted but objectively progressive and so forth. She prefers to do her military service in a Soviet uniform, as you prefer to do yours in an Israeli uniform. And every four or five years the real thing.

Take care as you make your way to Israel. Young men and women, calling themselves Palestinian freedom fighters, may try to kidnap and shoot you. They know nothing of the Ukraine or of how you lived there. To them you are one more Zionist coming to usurp "their" land. In fact, though their parents tilled the soil of Palestine, it always belonged to the landlord, not to them. When the army, which you will soon join, drove them out into neighbouring territories, they refused to settle and take compensation, and were encouraged to dream of a triumphal return to the ancient focal region of religious superstition and fanaticism. Vegetating in the misery of the refugee camps, they have become as misty-eyed Zionists as you. For they also long for the day when their dispersed "nation", the Palestinians living throughout Europe, the Americas and the Arab world, will be ingathered to Zion. And brought up their children to take patriotic revenge on you.

If they ever manage to "re-Arabise" Palestine, they will still be disinherited slaves of the minority who own and rule the earth, privately and through the State. But they may have the satisfaction of slaving for an Arab employer under "their own" Palestinian flag. Will the splendours of national liberation start to fade for them then?

And what about you? In Kiev your family lives in an apartment smaller than a room for one in the brand-new hotel for foreign tourists. In Israel you imagine being welcomed into a beautiful house in golden Jerusalem. You'll probably find yourself in a hastily-built apartment in a new town on the desert edge. When you fall behind in paying the rent — for it may take a while for you to resign yourself to taking the sort of job available — you will be thrown out on the street by the bailiff. You will be disciplined by a new boss, preached to by new politicians, led to the slaughter by new generals. Your freedom will consist in the bailiff, boss, politician and general being Jewish. You will no longer be suspected of disloyalty, unless you "act against the Jewish nation" — but you will learn to shun others as alien.

You know that the fourth major Middle East war, the worst yet, is in progress as I write. It began as I set out on a week's coach tour of Italy. The idyllic Isle of Capri used to be an exclusive resort of the capitalist class — a small fortune (tens of thousands) is still required as a condition of residence, but recently they have let in a few package tourists. The group I was in was among the first to be granted this honour.

A few hundred miles across the Mediterranean I knew that relatives of mine on one side, and friends on both sides, were killing one another on the blazing hot sand, strewn with metal wreckage and human carrion. I'm boycotting newspapers until the end of the war, but headlines are written on the news-stands which I can't help seeing. Like "human wave attacks". Think what that means.

In my mind the war means mainly the Sinai front. This is the front I've heard people speak of. Three Cairo students I knew at university are there — if not already dead. With one I never discussed politics. The second was cynical. The third (in private) sympathised with Israel. He had an extensive knowledge of Jewish history, told me that Egyptian soldiers taken prisoner by the Israelis were so impressed by their treatment that they refused to fight them again. My Israeli friends, those still alive, are in that minority which sympathises more or less openly with the Arabs. From them I have heard stories of Israeli torture prisons, of Israelis who have openly boasted how they blew up Iraqi synagogues in order to stampede the oriental Jews into Israel. Then there's the persecution of Copts and dissidents in Egypt, the Nazis working there . . .

Recently a young drifter in Libya, unable to hold down a job, concerned with the plight of the Libyan Jews, wanting to show the Israelis that not all Arabs want to throw them into the sea, hijacked a plane and took it on a personal peace mission to Tel Aviv, where he is now safely in prison — thinking what? Ghaddafi and Golda Meir were for once in agreement in diagnosing him insane. They should know. And the furore in Israel over two elite paratroopers who, sensitive to the position of Arabs inside Israel, spied for Syria! These people reverse the usual illusion, and make of the "enemy" country their ideal homeland. They have resisted the conditioning to which their fellows succumb. As their experience broadens, we can hope they will reach a more Socialist position — a plague on both your houses!

Back on Capri. A fellow traveller — mild-mannered and chivalrous, the perfect English gentleman — comes up: "You're Jewish, aren't you? Is the war going well? I hope your side is winning."

"I don't. Since when do wars go well? Whoever wins, my side loses."

This reply confused him. It took him several seconds to close his mouth. This same man, in a conversation about pollution, commented within earshot of coloured fellow tourists — "On the subject of pollution, what shall we do with our coloured friends who are polluting the country?" Perhaps he was considering gas chambers. But he was very embarrassed when challenged. There's hope for Socialism yet.

Arriving back in England, the driver of the bus taking us from the airport to the terminal treated his passengers to an analysis of world affairs. Passing through a Jewish area he commented: "All these Israelis have gone to fight their war. I hope they win it soon, or we're bound to get dragged into it. And they can stay there, as far as I'm concerned." Perhaps my astonishment was the product of a sheltered life?

There is no need for me to expose the mythical and unscientific nature of nationalist ideologies in the Middle East. The Jewish Zionists debunk the Arab Palestinian "Zionists" with excellent scholarly analysis, and vice versa. Literature available from the Al Fatah office, Zionist bodies and so on.

Until the hold of nationalist and racist poison on the minds of the world's workers is destroyed, it will not be possible to live the full and satisfying life of Socialism. Stand up for yourself as a human being and fight for the only worthwhile end — the achievement of a free humanity. And when you come to Western Europe, why not stay rather than go on to Israel? Corpses in the sand cannot, among other things, work for the Socialist revolution.

Yours,
STEFEN.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rallying For Jobs (1981)

From the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

How many marchers were there? The police said seven thousand. The organisers said between fifteen and twenty thousand. At any rate there were a lot of them and the procession seemed never-ending as it wound down Cardiff's main street away from the centre and out towards a large field on the edge of the city. Sweet fresh-faced little girls from the Welsh valleys played drums, xylophones and kazoos for the march to proceed by. Badges and banners gave colour and spectacle. Rhythmic chants of "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie-Out, Out, Out" broke out frequently as the march progressed. This was the latest in the series of anti-Tory unemployment rallies organised by the Labour Party.

The marchers, as their banners showed, came from many different places—not just Wales but Glasgow, Southampton, Manchester, London—and represented a wide range of occupations, manual and professional. But the one thing they all had in common was an ardent desire, expressed in the flags, placards and choruses, to "kick Maggie out".

All kind of left-wing newspapers could be bought, from the least to the best known and all kins of leaflets were given out. There were times when the majority of people there seemed to have papers to sell or leaflets to distribute.

It was a close, warm day and after the two-hour march to Pontcanna Fields everyone was tired and over-heated. Banners were laid down, sandwich packets were opened up and queues developed at the stalls selling food and drink. No queues developed at the stalls selling left-wing books, badges, posters and more newspapers.

Organisation was efficient. A brass band was on hand to entertain the arriving marchers, followed by a girls' choir. With powerful loudspeakers the whole thing was relayed across the two-acre field from the large platform at the far end. Clearly a lot of trouble and expense had been gone to.

As the girls sang, the important people mounted the platform and took their places. After the choir had finished, the master of ceremonies asked over the loudspeaker if all the "platform party" was present on stage. It seemed that they were, so the speeches began.

First, a trade union official or two talking almost identically about the need to "save jobs" and "get the Tories out". Then a local MP who said a few words in Welsh. Then a message of fraternal greetings from Tony Benn, too ill to attend but whose words brought cheers from some of the crowd, especially those wearing "Benn for Deputy" badges. Finally the first of the big-name politicians—Michael Foot himself. He talked in tired platitudes about "investing in public spending", "silly, wicked Tories", "the first essential attack on the present appalling unemployment total", and "how we can save ourselves and the whole world". He admitted that there was a slump in world trade and that this was partly to blame for unemployment but added that some governments, especially 'socialist' ones (he didn't name any), had been able to protect their people from the effects. He mentioned the "magnificent socialist victory" in France and said that in the coming months Mitterand would be pursuing the same socialist policies as a Labour government itself would put into effect when next elected. His speech bore little resemblance to the report carried the same evening by the local papers up and down the country and by the nationals the following day. The prepared press release on which the reports had been based dealt in detail with the precise reforms a future Labour government would bring in to "combat inflation" and "reflate the economy".

But no matter, for the next big name to speak, Eric Heffer, had a whole detailed programme of "socialist" reforms to offer, He started promisingly: "The reason we've got unemployment is that we've got capitalism and we can only get rid of unemployment when we have socialism". But the promise didn't last. We soon found out that what Heffer meant by socialism wasn't a moneyless, wageless society of common ownership, free access and production for use, but "a 35-hour working week", "earlier retirement", "a wealth tax", "the baks and insurance companies in public ownership", "abolition of the House of Lords", "unilateral nuclear disarmament", and so on  . . . 

The crowd responded warmly to Heffer's old style oratory. They responded less warmly to the next major speaker, the bête noire of the Labour Left, Denis Healey. "Healey out", "Tony Benn", "Traitor", "Join the SDP" were some of the cries. Foot intervened and angrily told the hecklers that they were playing into the hands of the Tories and that they must allow Healey the right of free speech. Some did, some didn't. But by this time many of the crowd were drifting off. It had been a wearying day for everyone, especially for those who had travelled long distances. Even the most ardent anti-Tories were looking jaded. They weren't relishing the walk balk to the city centre and perhaps an evening's travel to follow.

What is there to be said about rallies of this kind? Firstly they undoubtedly show a remarkable degree of solidarity among a cross-section of those who, in order to live, have to sell their energies to an employer (if they can find one) for a wage or salary—the working class. Secondly, however, they show that many workers have short memories for, as I heard one disgruntled participant say after Michael Foot had spoken about fighting unemployment, under the last Labour government with Foot as Employment Minister unemployment doubled to 1½ million. Thirdly, and this is the truly sad thing, a host of people are exhibiting an enormous amount of social concern, but unfortunately it is pointing in the wrong direction. Unemployment, one of the worst evils of capitalism, cannot be eliminated by a change of government.

One lone brave marcher carried a crude home-made placard that said it all. One side read "Kicking Maggie out won't make any difference", and the other "Production for need not for profit". He was not a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain but his scrawled slogans neatly summed up the essence of the socialist case. He knew, as the vast majority of the demonstrators seemed not to know, that as long as the buying and selling system remains, "Maggie" can only be replaced by another leader committed to administering that system. And that leader, however labelled and whether they like it or not, will be obliged to adopt all the anti-working class measures imposed by the system.

Enthusiasm and good intentions were what the demonstrators had.  Understanding was what they did not have. Hasten the day when as many will make mature socialist demands for a world of free access, common ownership of the world's wealth, and the abolition of the wages system.
Howard Moss


A Question of Class Identity (1999)

Theatre Review from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Summerfolk, by Maxim Gorki. National Theatre.

Summerfolk is a compelling, exciting, entertaining, hugely relevant play, that was written in 1904; that is, in the same year that the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed. Like Philistines and Barbarians, two of Gorki's other plays written at about the same time, it is about the emergence, in significant numbers, of the "professional people"—lawyers, doctors, engineers, administrative civil servants, etc—who were needed to service the emerging capitalist state. Today's chattering classes jet round the world for their extended holidays, but in turn-of-the-century Russia the practice was to rent summer villas in the country. Summerfolk follows the lives of one group of such people and their dependants, over a period of several weeks.

Anyone familiar with the plays of Chekov and Turgenev (see, for example, the review of Turgenev's A Month in the Country, Socialist Standard, April 1999) will recognise the terrain. Indeed Chekov's The Cherry Orchard describes the sale of land which is to be divided into building lots for summer villas. Most of the new breed of professionals and their partners, are the sons and daughters of serfs. Most of them, as once of the characters puts it "knew poverty in our youth", but now it is many of their lives which seem impoverished, listless, and apparently lacking in point and purpose.

Whilst Chekov and Turgenev frequently seem content to describe the behaviour of their characters and to acknowledge their collective ennui, Gorki is concerned to understand the roots of that behaviour and to speculate about its consequences. One critic argues that Chekov has more "symphonic mastery", by which he presumably means that Chekov handles his plots with greater panache and subtlety. But then Chekov seems intent on accounting for human behaviour in terms of individual traits and characteristics which make no reference to people's social experience. For Chekov it seems, the psychological domain is not only prime, it is often, in practice, all that there is.

Gorki takes a contrary view. His characters behave differently, firstly, because they are attached to different views of the world; and secondly, because these opinions are socially constructed. At the heart of the play is a dilemma. Are newly-rich professionals entitled to "a good meal and a drink", content with the justification of "My right to live any way I want"? Or should they, as a matter of loyalty to the class from which they come, strive "to improve and regenerate and illuminate the lives of our own people—people who toil and toil, till the day they die, trapped in dirt and darkness"? This is the question that Gorki would have us face and interestingly, the more enlightened, humanistic perspective is voiced predominantly by the female characters. The gossip, the drinking, the conflicting points of view—the talk of evolution or revolution, despotism or democracy, pessimism or optimism—are all finally tied to this central question.

Whether Gorki has "symphonic mastery" of his material may be a moot point. I can only report that three minutes listening to a reformist politician has often felt infinitely longer than the spell-binding three-and-a-half hours during which the drama unfolds across the vast expanses of the Olivier stage.

I frequently meet people who accept both the legitimacy of the socialist case and its implications for their status as workers. But, like some of the characters in Summerfolk, they argue that given their professional salaries, health benefits, share options and alike, they feel little sense of identity with the more deprived members of the working class in this country, let alone the wider world. For them, and for people like me who would have them think otherwise, Summerfolk is as relevant today as it has ever been. I hope to find an early excuse to see the play again, and to marvel at the skill of the actors and the wonder of its staging. Thoroughly recommended.
Michael Gill

Monday, February 24, 2014

Death of a tendency (2006)

From the September 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent death of Ted Grant at the age of 93 has been a landmark, albeit a minor one, in British political history.

Grant was the last of the three great gurus of the British Trotskyist movement and the eminence grise of what became known as the Militant Tendency. Along with his two main Trotskyist rivals, Gerry Healy (of the Socialist Labour League/Workers' Revolutionary Party) and Tony Cliff (of International Socialism/the Socialist Workers' Party) he had a considerable input into what became - with the decline of the Communist Party - the most significant political trend to the left of the Labour Party. 

Born Isaac Blank just outside Johannesburg, he changed his name to Grant when he came to Britain during the turbulent mid-1930s with a small band of other South African militants, convinced that it would be more fertile political territory than his country of birth. Attracted to the political ideas of the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, this small group of South African émigrés had already been influential in the founding of South Africa's first Trotskyist organisation, the Workers' International League, and soon made a mark on the fledgling British Trotskyist movement. Of the two small British Trotskyist groupings of the time, the Balham Group and the Revolutionary Socialist League (later to be called the Militant Labour League, selling a newspaper called Militant), Grant and his colleagues were attracted towards the latter. In what became a tradition of the Trotskyist movement not only in Britain but internationally, they soon split from it though to form their own organisation, this time a British version of the Workers' International League they had left behind in South Africa. Among those joining them was the Scottish orator Jock Haston and a voluble Irish militant, Gerry Healy. 

Fourth International 
In 1938 Leon Trotsky and his followers set up an international organisation intended to rival the worldwide Communist ('Third') International. This 'Fourth International' cast around for a British section, but the tiny group around Grant, Haston and Healy was ignored and the franchise went instead to the larger Militant Labour League. For this key event in Trotskyist history then, Grant and his comrades were shunned and Grant himself never got to meet Trotsky before the 'Old Man's' assassination by Soviet agents in Mexico in 1940. 

During the Second World War, Grant's WIL was active on the industrial front and soon began to eclipse its parent organisation in both membership and influence - so much so, that by 1944 the Fourth International persuaded the two organisations to merge, in what was effectively a WIL takeover. The new organisation created was called the Revolutionary Communist Party and was the first (and last) time the British Trotskyist movement was united in the one organisation. 

Grant became editor of the RCP's paper, Socialist Appeal, and Grant and Haston were the organisation's first delegates to the Fourth International. The RCP existed for three years and grew to 500-600 members, being a thorn in the side of the Communist Party before, in true Trotskyist fashion, internal strife led to decline and a split. 

Significantly, in the late 1940s three main factions had begun to emerge which were to be the main tendencies within the Trotskyist movement in Britain in the decades thereafter. Those around the Palestinian émigré Tony Cliff developed a distinctive version of the theory that what existed in the Soviet Union was a form of state capitalism (though only after Stalin's accession to power in 1928) and therefore couldn't be supported by socialists, while the groups around Grant and Healy held on to Trotsky's own belief that what existed in Russia was a workers' state, albeit a degenerated one. Indeed, the Grant and Healy factions had much in common politically, and it was mainly the bitter personal hostility that developed between the two men that kept their groupings separate. 

Secret organisation 
In the early 1950s, Grant and his small number of followers started a magazine called International Socialist. Grant lived in London and worked as a night-time telephone operator, which left him free to pursue his political work as a Trotskyist during the day. At this time he began to build up a close political relationship with a Trotskyist from Birkenhead called Jimmy Dean, who was the driving force behind Rally, a paper popular with the youth section of the Labour Party in the North West of England (and soon edited from Liverpool by a teenage Pat Wall, later one of the Militant supporting Labour MPs). 

By 1955 Grant and his supporters decided that the time was right to found a new organisation. Harking back to the group Grant first joined on his arrival from South Africa, it was called the Revolutionary Socialist League and its first General Secretary was Jimmy Dean. It effectively fused two small Trotskyist bases in London and Liverpool where Grant had an influence, and was a tightly-knit organisation built on the Leninist principles of the vanguard party, being hierarchical and secretive in almost equal measure, operating like other Trotskyist groups before it as a clandestine faction within the Labour Party. 

Coincidentally, two years earlier the Trotskyist Fourth International had split. Healy's faction had the UK franchise but went off with the splitters, leaving a vacancy for a British Section which the leadership of the FI allegedly tried to fill by placing an advertisement in Tribune, which Grant answered. By 1957, the RSL was given the British franchise by the FI but advanced only sporadically, starting a new paper called Socialist Fight but otherwise being eclipsed by other Trotskyist groups, particularly Healy's. At the time the Healy, Cliff and Grant factions were all building up support by working inside the Labour Party as secret parties within a party, focusing especially on the Labour League of Youth, but Grant's faction was so unsuccessful that the FI forced it to merge with an up-and-coming young group of Trotskyists in Nottingham around Ken Coates called the International Group. When this marriage of convenience led to the inevitable divorce within a year or so, the FI took the opportunity to rescind Grant's franchise altogether, giving it instead to the Nottingham faction which by then had turned itself into the International Marxist Group (IMG), a current which went on to develop a strong student base under the leadership of Tariq Ali.

Militant 
The loss of the Fourth International franchise was an understandable blow to Grant, but around the same time his group had begun to take steps which were to prove more fruitful, the most significant of which was the creation of a new publication to be called Militant - for Labour and Youth. It's editor was a young Liverpudlian with strong organisatiuonal abilities called Peter Taaffe, who became Grant's lieutenant-in-chief, while Grant himself was political editor. The striking design of the paper was created by Roger Protz, later of the Campaign For Real Ale, but who was a notable activist at various times in each of the three main Trotskyist factions in British politics (later, in Cliff's International Socialists, he became editor of Socialist Worker). It was to be growing sales of Militant, combined with systematic, organised activity in the Labour Party, which was eventually to bear fruit for Grant's faction. 

By 1966 they were the only one of the three main Trotskyist factions still inside the Labour Party. Healy's group had, by the early 1960s, almost completely taken over the (now renamed) Labour Party Young Socialists and after several attempts they were eventually expelled, with Grant personally refusing at one stage to vote to keep Healy-ites in the Party. Cliff's faction disengaged from Labour in the mid-1960s, seeing propaganda opportunities in disassociating itself from Wilson's Labour government, leaving the field free for Grant. By 1970 Grant's RSL had a majority on the Labour Party Young Socialists Executive and from 1972 onwards always had one of its members on the Labour NEC as the LPYS representative. 

Throughout the 1970s, the influence of what by this time was becoming known as the 'Militant Tendency' grew apace, both in the Labour Party and trade unions. Grant's organisation moved from being the least well-known of the major Trotskyists sects to becoming the most well-known, with something of a 'workerist' face, placing less emphasis on building up student support than most Trotskyist groups and more on recruiting the skilled and semi-skilled working class, especially local government workers. 

By the 1980s Militant's growth and influence was such that it could claim scores of Labour councillors across Britain as 'supporters' (when in reality they were RSL members who couldn't publicly admit to being a 'party within a party'). In addition, they could claim several Labour Parliamentary candidates - three of whom (Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall) eventually became MPs, and - most controversially of all - they took effective control of Liverpool City Council, with Derek Hatton as the council's Deputy Leader and Tony Mulhearn (a long-time RSL member more trusted by Grant) as his aide de camp. 

The mid-1980s, when the Tendency claimed over 8,000 'supporters', was the peak of Militant's influence on British politics and the nearest Grant came to fulfilling his dream of creating a mass Trotskyist base within the Labour Party. But its size, influence and the notoriety attached to it by the mainstream press led to the first systematic attempt to deal with Trotskyist infiltration in the Labour Party since the expulsion of the Healy-ites. Earlier, in 1975, Lord Underhill had written a report on Militant's activities in the Labour Party for a left-wing dominated Labour NEC that chose at the time to do nothing about it. But in the 1980s the Labour leadership acted, first under Michael Foot and then under Neil Kinnock, with his famous attack on the Militants on Liverpool City Council at the 1985 Labour Party conference, after they had deployed the tactic of refusing to set a rate, issuing 30,000 council workers with redundancy notices. 

Labour initially started by picking on the most obvious candidates for expulsion, the five members of Militant's Editorial Board, including Grant and Taaffe, who were expelled in 1983. After this, large and increasing numbers of their comrades were systematically put outside the Party they claimed was 'the mass party of the working class'. 

Political positions 
Throughout the lifetime of the RSL, 'entryism' into the Labour Party was one of its defining characteristics as a Trotskyist current. Others used entryism as a tactic, including Cliff and Healy, but for Grant's group it appeared to amount to more than this - it was a defining political position. Sometimes called 'deep entryism' it was not simply about a Trotskyist organisation going into the Labour Party, building up support and effectively raiding it for new members before emerging into the outside world stronger and fitter. For Grant, as Militant's main theoretician, the task of his tendency was to 'win the Labour Party to socialism' on the grounds that a united Labour and trade union movement under a Trotskyist leadership was unstoppable. 

The means for achieving this goal was deep entryism plus a particular variety of Trotsky's 'transitional demands' programme, a strategy developed from Lenin's premise that the working class in capitalism was not capable through its own efforts of developing a socialist consciousness. This transitional programme was a carefully calculated list of demands - such as massive public works programmes, the nationalisation of the top 200 monopolies, and an implausibly generous minimum wage - which would be superficially attractive to supporters of reforms in the wider Labour and trade union movement, and which Militant thought contained the seeds of a future socialist society. The intention was a dishonest one, for Grant and Militant's other leaders knew that these demands were not generally capable of realisation within the normal politics of capitalism - indeed, that was the very point of advocating them. The resultant anger they expected within the working class when these demands were unmet would lead, they hoped, to a lurch towards the left under the leadership of the Trotskyist vanguard itself - the RSL. 

The desire to stay in the Labour Party at all costs coupled with distinctive transitional demands that could lead to a Trotskyist leadership introducing 'socialism' (really state-run capitalism based on nationalisation) via an Enabling Act in parliament - and supported by workers' councils in the industrial field - was what really defined Militant in relation to the other Trotskyist sects. Also, and uniquely, the RSL quickly identified the arena of local government as a means for criticising traditional, piecemeal reformist politics (saying they would always oppose rent and rates increases), raising its programme of more radical transitional demands instead as the 'bridge to socialism': 
"To lift the horizon of the local parish pump politicians on to the broader national and international field - this is the first task of the revolutionary Councillor . . . It is necessary within the Labour Groups and in open council to point out the limitations of particular struggles and reforms and show how (in theory and practice) reformism (nationally and locally) cannot resolve the contradictions of capitalism." (RSL 'Notes on Council Work', by Ellis Hillman, 1961.) 
These socialist-sounding phrases, in reality masking the advocacy of what were, in effect, just more radical reforms of capitalism, was typical of their entryist tactic, as later exemplified in Liverpool. Combined with their relentless workerism and disdain for non-economic issues, this constituted their 'Unique Selling Point' within the Trotskyist milieu (unlike others, Militant had relatively little interest in sexual or student politics, or supporting Third World nationalist movements). 

These were the key perspectives handed down by Grant himself, consistently over decades. Indeed, it was often said by his supporters and opponents alike that Grant was saying the same things in the 1980s as he had been saying in the 1940s, and his book, "The Unbroken Thread: the Development of Trotskyism Over 40 Years", is testament to this. This would have to include his oft-repeated claim (following Trotsky, and like his rival Gerry Healy of the WRP) that capitalist collapse leading to a Trotskyist leadership of a revolutionary working class was imminent in 'the coming period' of the next 10-15 years, somewhat in the perpetual manner of 'tomorrow never comes'. 

Post-Militant 
In the eventually, capitalism outlived Grant himself. Indeed, Grant's end appears to have been a rather sad one, in an old people's home, years after having been kicked out of the Labour party and then, rather more remarkably, the RSL itself. The campaign of the Labour leadership in the 1980s against Militant had been so successful that by 1992 the majority of the RSL, led by Taaffe, came to the conclusion that continuing with entryism was pointless and stood 'Militant Labour' candidates against the official Labour Party, with mixed success. A group around Grant and one of his protégés, Alan Woods, refused to accept this reversal of what the Tendency had always stood for, and were expelled. 

Just as Grant had borrowed from early Trotskyist groups when founding the Revolutionary Socialist League and its paper, Militant, so this expelled rump from the RSL started a new paper called Socialist Appeal, the name of the journal Grant edited while one of the leaders of the RCP just after the war. Never more than a couple of hundred at most, this group made little impact, while after a period of serious decline the slightly larger Militant Labour eventually voted in 1997 to dishonestly turn itself into the 'Socialist Party' (of England and Wales - SPEW to its enemies), effectively trying to usurp the name of the SPGB. This grouping has since declined further, though its leading elements in Scotland, such as Tommy Sheridan, were instrumental in forming the rather more successful but equally reformist Scottish Socialist Party. 

The modern legacy of Ted Grant is an interesting one, for in many respects he was the most successful of the three main British Trotskyist leaders, while still falling well short of his ultimate goal. From a socialist perspective, the Militant Tendency (like the other Trotskyist groups) did much to muddy the waters of revolutionary politics in the UK, posing as socialist while supporting the usual Trotskyist stew of radical reformist demands with the long-term aim of state-run capitalism organised by a Leninist vanguard party, another classic 'dictatorship over the proletariat', with Grant as leader-in-waiting. 

Grant knew full well of the real socialist alternative promoted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and our companion parties overseas (he debated Socialist Party speaker Tony Turner in 1945 and was wont to deride us as 'ultra left' sectarians) but he rejected real socialism for the type of politics that cast him in the role of leader, manipulating the mass of the proletariat towards a 'revolutionary situation'. But, as history proved, the working class were not so easily manipulated by Grant's particular mix of Trotskyist tactics, and his lifetime was effectively wasted on an ultimately dishonest political cause. 

This was a shame, because like Tony Cliff, Grant had much energy and some talent as a writer and speaker. He was an obsessive analyst of - and collector of information about - the capitalist economy, though arguably (because of his unsupported belief in capitalist collapse) his best works were not in this field. His political tract Against the Theory of State Capitalism in 1949, for instance, was a relentlessly logical attack on the irrationality of the Cliff (SWP) position from an orthodox Trotskyist perspective, implying that the only coherent state capitalist theory applied to the Soviet bloc, etc came from those, like the Socialist Party, who rejected Leninist and Trotskyist politics altogether. And in more recent times, he collaborated with Alan Woods to write an excellent book called," Reason and Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science", a history of science and scientific methods from a general Marxist standpoint. Grant will be remembered, above all else though, for founding a political tendency which hit the headlines and gained public notoriety but which otherwise did the socialist movement huge amounts of damage. His political heirs in Socialist Appeal and SPEW fittingly continue to peddle the same kind of elitist and outdated reformist nonsense now as Grant did when he first became a Trotskyist in the 1930s. Indeed, for years Grant was derided by many for sounding rather like an old, broken record - and today, his surviving political heirs most certainly stand out as badly scratched vinyl in what is a transparently digital age.
Dave Perrin

The great divide (1987)

From the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The "North-South divide" has become part of political rhetoric. The government recently issued figures which showed that of the jobs lost in recent years, 94 per cent were in the north of the country and only 6 per cent in the south, thereby seeming to provide still more evidence of a division between North and South. In fact the "north" now includes almost anywhere outside the south-east of England as the Midlands have also suffered massive job losses. Predictably, the opposition parties have blamed this on the government's mismanagement of the economy. Roy Hattersley, Labour's deputy leader and shadow chancellor, said the government had "scandalously neglected those areas of the economy with which it does not feel any emotional sympathy and deep political interest" (Independent, January 21). He accused them of favouring city and financial interests in the south-east at the expense of manufacturing industry, which is synonymous with the interests of the regions. Edward Heath, the former Tory Prime Minister and leading "wet", said that the North-South divide was moving further south and that the government should pursue a policy of investment for the regions. What was required, he claimed, was a "constructive, co-ordinated development policy for the country as a whole".

The Liberal-SDP Alliance is always keen to talk about divisions in society. At the recent launch of their joint election programme, which was designed to paper over the damaging splits between the two parties, they talked of the need to unite the country through co-operation and partnership. Partnership in government, they argued, is the only way to heal the divisions between North and South. They also urged co-operation between workers and employers. that class division should be forgotten in the interests of a united nation. This is rather like urging someone being mugged to co-operate with the mugger.

Chancellor Nigel Lawson and other Tory ministers denied the existence of any North-South divide. Lawson claimed that the worst of the recession is over, that the economy is growing fast and that over one million new jobs have been created since 1983. But these new jobs have not been spread evenly across the country. On the government's own figures, since 1983 there were 446,000 new jobs in the South-East, but only 135,000 new jobs in Scotland, the North-West, the North-East and Yorkshire and Humberside added together. There has been a five per cent increase in jobs in the financial services to 2.25 million, but manufacturing output is still four cent below its 1979 level. Thatcher has claimed that it is wrong to talk of a North-South divide as parts of the South are doing badly. She has got a point, although it does seem strange that she would want to remind people of the severe deprivation and decay that exists in parts of the South-East, especially areas of inner London.

Manufacturing industry has suffered badly in the current world depression. Many coalmines, steelmills, shipyards and factories have been closed and many others have had severe job losses. Some towns and cities have rates of unemployment in excess of 20 per cent, with some pockets in these areas having much higher levels. This is not a deliberate government policy however - governments can do little to affect the way the economy operates. All wealth under capitalism is produced for sale on the market in the expectation that it will make a profit for the owners. If a product cannot be sold at a profit then production is cut back and workers thrown on the dole. Many industries in the north of the country have been faced with this situation and have acted accordingly. Most of the political criticism seems to want a "fairer" spread of employment prospects across the whole country. Even if this were possible, the implication of this kind of argument is to spread poverty across a wider geographical area. Which ever way capitalism inflicts its suffering on the working class is unacceptable. To argue about its location but ignore its real cause serves only to perpetuate it.

Talk about a North-South divide, or indeed whether workers are employed or unemployed, only covers over the real division in society -  the class division. If you have to work in order to live, if you are a member of the working class, then you are likely to experience a life of shortage, insecurity and relative poverty. Whether you live in London or Liverpool or whether you earn 300 a week or are on the dole will not change this. Clearly existing on a giro means more intense poverty than existing on a wage packet but compared to the life of ease and luxury lived by the capitalist class, these differences are meaningless. As long as workers allow capitalism to continue there will be arguments about who is doing best (or least badly). We will be told that northerners are being hard done by compared to southerners, despite the fact that both endure various levels of poverty. In fact workers themselves will contribute to these artificial divisions - not so long ago there were reports of trouble at a football match when supporters of a London club waved bunches of 10 notes at Liverpool fans and sang songs about them being on the dole.

There always seem to be a plentiful supply of Scottish nationalists who claim that the "English" parliament doesn't care about the Scots, who should get their own parliament and run their own affairs. The Brixton and Tottenham riots happened almost within spitting distance of the House of Commons; clearly, having the "mother of parliaments" on your doorstep is no sure way to peace and prosperity. Not so long ago we were told how lucky we are to live in a developed country like Britain, because if we lived in parts of Africa we'd be starving to death. They were still talking about the North-South divide, but now in global terms. It is cold comfort to people on the dole to be told that they are lucky that they don't live in Ethiopia. The absolute poverty is not the same, but its cause and solution certainly are.

The possibility of finding differences in working class existence are endless. The urgent need is to put an end to the system that creates these artificial divisions. Capitalism is by its nature divisive and competitive, whether it divides people on the grounds of race, sex, nationality or geographical location. Workers have got to transcend these artificial differences and recognise our common interest - that of a degraded, exploited class. Once we recognise our basic class interests then no force on earth can prevent us from acting accordingly, and putting an end to all social division once and for all.
Ian Ratcliffe